Friday, May 5, 2017

Music Mondays - Andrew Norman: Hear by Design - 05/01/17

Guillaume Dufay: Nuper rosarum flores 
Trident Ensemble 
Meaghan Burke: Cello 
Ann Lanzilotti: Viola 
Andrew Norman: Farnsworth: Four Portraits of a House 
Trident Ensemble 
Matthew Beaumont: Percussion 
Jessica Jade Han: Flute 
Jennifer Koh: Violin 
Aaron Wunsch: Piano 
Johann Sebastian Bach: Two Part Inventions (arr. for strings) 
György Kurtág: Selections from Signs, Games and Messages 
Variation String Trio 
Andrew Norman: Still Life 
Jennifer Koh: Violin 
Andrew Norman: Stop Motion for String Quartet 
Rhythm Method 
Andrew Norman: Companion Guide to Rome 
Variation String Trio 

Since I often bemoan of the lack of contemporary classical music compositions in nowadays' concert programs, I try to make a point of attending performances of new music as often as possible. Therefore, after NOW Ensemble’s fun little gig in Inwood on Sunday afternoon, I found myself thankfully much closer to home and in a familiar space too last Monday night as I was sitting in the Upper West Side’s colorful and intimate Advent Lutheran Church for the Music Mondays’ PWYC monthly concert.
Always the advocate for imaginative programming and living composers, the popular music series had concocted yet another promising concert focusing on the music of Andrew Norman, a California-based composer whose work more often than not has been influenced by his fondness for architecture and design. To make things even more intriguing, the program also included pieces by composers as far apart as Dufay, Bach and Kurtág. And, to top it all off, one of the performing musicians would be the inimitable Jennifer Koh. That was quite a nice reward for having worked on International Workers' Day. 

The performance started with early Renaissance Franco-Flemish composer Guillaume Dufay’s “Nuper rosarum flores”, the oldest work on the evening. It was also the one major opportunity we had to enjoy the Trident Ensemble’s dazzling talents as the four singers’ voices beautifully filled up the small space with a stunning combination of clarity and purity. That's what I call setting the bar amazingly high.
We then jumped about six centuries ahead to Norman’s Farnsworth: Four Portraits of a House, which quickly confirmed that the composer is a hell of an architecture buff indeed. Inspired by the purity of lines of Mies’ famous glass house as well as the ever-changing natural world surrounding it, the piece opened in an ethereal and elegant vein with the Trident Ensemble subtly working up their vocal magic at the center of the stage. Not to be outdone, the instruments all contributed in their own special way: Aaron Wunsch’s plucky piano added some spooky notes, Jennifer Koh’s violin occasionally emerged from the back of the stage, Matthew Beaumont’s percussion came from a side angle and Jessica Jade Han’s flute made itself heard from way up above in the entrance of the church. Inventively playing with space and colors, Farnsworth was downright riveting.
The next set actually consisted in two sets of interwoven miniature compositions by Bach and Kurtág, which Norman had picked essentially for their tiny sizes and rigorous structures. The brilliantly performance by the Variation String Trio made us appreciate even more the common qualities as well as the stark differences among those noteworthy nuggets, each representing a unique self-contained world in itself .
Jennifer Koh was on her own for Norman’s very short, very quiet and subtle, and yet undoubtedly purposeful "Stiff Life".
Then the Rhythm Method quartet took over for a blazing version of Norman’s Stop Motion for String Quartet, which according to the composer, was all about pressure and speed. We quickly realized that he was not kidding as the ensemble delivered an episode of lingering calm before a wild storm burst out and raged on for a bit, and eventually subdued.
The second half of the evening was dedicated to Norman’s 2006 Companion Guide to Rome, which he wrote during the year he spent in Rome and tried to visit every church of the city. Although he unsurprisingly failed, he at least got a stunning composition out of it, one movement per church, for a total of nine movements. From the short and explosively dissonant Teresa to the expansive and eerily spiritual Sabina, the Variation String Trio took us on a vividly expressive tour of Norman’s favorite catholic churches in The Eternal City. And then we were back in a lutheran church in New York City.

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